Astronauts on the International Space Station have moved a closet-like storage module to a new spot on the orbiting lab to make room for a new docking port to welcome commercial space taxis in 2017.
During Wednesday's hours-long move, the station's bus-sized Permanent Multipurpose Module rode a robotic arm from its spot on the Unity node to a new perch on the Tranquility module. It was the first move for the cylindrical chamber, which NASA calls the PMM, since its installation in 2011.
Early in the docking process, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly noted a warning message that was quickly cleared by NASA. "Except for that first little message there, it all looked perfect," Kelly said after the module move was finished.
NASA worked closely with controllers at the Canadian Space Agency to move the module using a robotic arm. It was just one in a series of steps to prime the International Space Station to accommodate crew flights on U.S.-built commercial spacecraft.
Russia's Soyuz capsule is currently the only craft that's been cleared for carrying humans, but Boeing and SpaceX are creating new spacecraft that will begin sending astronauts aloft around 2017. Two docking adapters will fly into space aboard two SpaceX Dragon spacecraft this year; astronauts will install the adapters in a series of spacewalks.
NASA is shifting to commercial vehicles to reduce its reliance on Russia and restore U.S. capability of launching astronauts into space.
The PMM was first used to haul supplies from Earth while the space station was under construction. Then called "Leonardo," the Italian Space Agency's module flew eight times in space before a space shuttle crew left it behind in 2011 to dock to Unity.
Today, the module is used as a 2,400-cubic-foot (68-cubic-meter) storage facility, capable of holding 11 tons of equipment, or up to 16 racks, plus several storage bags.